Impalas are an often overlooked species because they are seen in abundance, but they’re actually fascinating animals. As guides, there are two times of the year we most look forward to when it comes to impala sightings: the lambing season, when baby impalas abound; and the rut – the impala mating season. We’re currently in the tail end of the rutting season at Lion Sands.
There is never any doubt when the rut is on as the roars of the males (you wouldn’t believe the sounds that can come out of this small animal!) claiming their territories carry on day and night. Guests are always intrigued to hear their loud, guttural calls – often mistaking them for those of a pig, or even a lion! The rut only lasts about four weeks, but is an incredibly tense and chaotic time. There’re hierarchies among the males (rams), and territories that have been fought for and set up are vigorously defended.
When winter approaches, a ram’s brain is stimulated and more testosterone gets produced in their body. Even before the rut starts, rams begin to display rutting behaviour and establish hierarchies. There is intense competition to herd females, and a ram must constantly chase off rival males. Being completely preoccupied with the rut, rams neglect to feed, drink and groom, and lose substantial body condition. The number of ticks on their bodies may even double – another factor that may weaken them. This, along with their reduced situational awareness, also mean many are taken out by predators during this time.
Once a dominant ram holds a harem of females, the average period they will keep control of them is five to seven days, during which time they will mate with them. Then as the ram continues to lose condition, a new challenger will come in and take over. Among the general impala population, the benefit of this is increased genetic diversity.
Despite an abundance of impalas, witnessing mating is surprisingly unusual. But this is due to the fact that they most commonly mate at night. I was lucky enough to see this on a game drive a few weeks ago – only the second time in my field-guiding career of nine years.
Words by: Neil Jennings
Media by: Charlotte Arthun